By: Holly Horning
Patterns. I’m always looking for patterns in everything I do. They give you information and an early sneak peek at the trends that are developing and likely to become part of the fabric of the future.
But I have to say that this particular pattern I’ve been seeing is one I don’t want to witness. And it has to do with the stories that come out of the playoffs over the past three years. And I fear it is diminishing this sport we love so dearly.
The question certainly is not a new one but rather one with a new twist. And that question is “Is big business and big money having an increasingly negative effect on team play?”
More and more I’m seeing stories questioning whether players are actually “all in” when it comes to helping their teams win in October. And the discussions all come back to the issues surrounding the pressure to get big money contracts as well as the increasing influence their agents exert over them.
Remember how we used to love a player who was in his contract year? How we thought he would pull out all the stops because a big payday was coming? Not anymore it seems. Many of these players are now being coached to pitch fewer innings or play more cautiously in the field in order to boost their value on the open market, as well as avoid injury. All in order to ensure a hefty payday.
Let’s review a few pieces of this pattern from the past couple of years……
2012 – Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals is shut down in the middle of a hot pennant race in September due to TJ recovery and a controversial pitch count quota. His agent was said to have had input in the decision. In the playoffs, the Cards won the series that most analysts saw as the Nats’ best chance to advance to the World Series.
2013 – Despite a stellar performance, Max Scherzer stuns the Bosox by leaving the game despite his continued mastery of them and opens the door for their comeback win. Media reports question the rationale, while former pitchers take Max to town for not pitching “until his arm falls off because that’s what you do in the playoffs.” We all know how this ended.
2015 – A battle breaks out between the Mets and Matt Harvey’s agent about when and if he’ll be shut down and unable to pitch in the playoffs. The Mets win this one but not without a fight that takes the focus off the team’s priorities and success.
Would you be surprised to learn that all three pitchers have the same agent? Or that since Max signed his new contract with the Nats that the innings pitched per game went up noticeably this year? Or that he pitched 4 complete games in this past year alone but only 1 in 5 years with the Tigers?
But we’re also seeing another pattern. The media has questioned this year’s playoff priorities of Johnny Cueto and David Price with both of them appearing not to place the team’s needs above their own. Throw in Yoenis Cespedes’ controversial move to play 18 holes of golf (and without a cart no less) just before a big playoff game in which he ended up hitless and involved in a controversial play.
In this case, these three players are all free agents in a week or two and not expected to re-sign with their current teams. Is the ring really the top thing for them? Or is money the bigger motivator?
And what does this say about the Tigers over the past 5 years? Great individual performances and multiple prestigious awards, but not the Big One which is based upon effective teamwork.
Am I the only one who wishes the Tigers had a bunch of Madison Bumgarner clones on its roster?